CHICAGO – First-year Purdue coach Matt Painter looked right at home fielding questions from the press about his new job during Big Ten Media Day on Sunday. He cracked jokes, made predictions and even deflected inquiries about his players’ legal troubles. But if you ask Painter whether he ever imagined he’d be sitting in this chair when he began his college playing career with the Boilermakers 15 years ago, you’d get a somewhat unlikely answer.
“People ask me, ‘Do you feel any different about being here? Is this a dream come true?’ – about being the next coach of Purdue,” Painter said. “Well, I never thought about being the next coach of Purdue because I always thought (former coach Gene Keady) would be the coach, similar to (how) coach (Bobby) Knight was at Indiana. You grow up in the state of Indiana, those guys are going to be like Yoda in coaching their universities forever.”
Before last season began, the second of those legacies ended. Knight was long gone to Texas Tech, and finally, the legendary Keady announced his retirement after 25 years at Purdue. In order to ease the transition, Painter joined the team as an assistant at the beginning of last year. But oddly enough, it was the events after the 2002-03 season that precipitated his hiring.
When current Kansas coach Bill Self left Illinois to coach the Jayhawks, the Illini hired then-Southern Illinois coach Bruce Weber to fill the open spot. This not only allowed Painter to take over the Salukis at the age of 32, but also meant that Weber, who was an assistant coach for 19 years at Purdue before taking the Southern Illinois job, was no longer Keady’s heir apparent. With Weber out of the picture, Painter’s 25-5 season at the Salukis’ helm was enough to get him the job in West Lafayette.
Painter might be hoping for just as much luck entering this season. Last year, Purdue posted a 7-21 record, the worst in Keady’s 25-year tenure. And this season has managed to get off to an even rockier start.
For starters, forward Carl Landry, a second-team All-Big Ten player last year, missed the final three games of the season with a torn ACL and has yet to return to form.
Painter has also already had to deal with three of his players running afoul of the law. The most notable of these incidents was that of Tarrance Crump, who was arrested after allegedly striking a pedestrian and leaving the scene of a hit-and-run, all while driving drunk. Monday, Painter suspended Crump, a junior college transfer expected to start at point guard, for the remainder of the season.
With all this trouble, Painter has set just one goal this season – to return the Boilermakers to their basketball roots.
“I think one thing Purdue is known for is their blue-collar approach and how hard they work,” Painter said. “You know when you watched a Purdue team play that they were going to play hard. We have to get back to that. The past couple of years, I don’t think that that’s been a typical Purdue team.”
And, if he needs any reminder of what type of play that requires, his “Yoda” will still be around to show him the force. Keady plans to keep an office on the Purdue campus.
“He’s a great guy, and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in this position,” Painter said. “He’s helped me with everything, and obviously he had to give his blessing. He’ll be there when I need him.”